What is GIS?

by Fallon Bleich, Head Editor, INALJ Arkansas

What is GIS?

fallon.bleichI started a new position this year—thanks to finishing up my MLIS and my awesome new networking skills—and while it’s not in a library, I do use a ton of my library skills!

First off, never let anyone tell you that a MLIS doesn’t transfer a ton of skills to other jobs. It’s not true. Library degrees not only give you skills for a librarian position, but they also give you a ton of other skills that work in other positions. Secondly, GIS is actually in the “realm” of library jobs (Seriously, take a look over at the sear terms on INALJ, GIS is not only on there, but so are a ton of other jobs we librarians can do!) and my MLIS makes me super qualified for the job.

So, what exactly is GIS?

GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems and is a visual representation of data, usually in map form. GIS is used to view and visualize data in ways that reveal relationships, patterns, and trends. By using hardware and software, we can take metadata and form maps and charts that allow others to see how the data relates to and interacts with itself.  It can help cities and counties with planning and zoning, it can document different events and how they affected various areas, and they can showcase where things are located, among other things. Use your GPS while driving? That GIS. Want to know where the nearest Trader Joe’s is? GIS will help you. Want to see the path a tornado took through a town? GIS documents that information and can help you decide where aid needs to go. GIS is the best way for maps to become interactive, but it’s also about helping users connect with information visually.

I’m sure you’re asking “But Fallon, how does a MLIS help someone in GIS, when I have no cartography experience?”

The answer is simple: metadata. Everything online uses metadata, but only GIS takes that information and makes a visual representation of it. What I love about it is that it allows me to not only see how information can be used, but it’s also opened up a whole world of how user experience/functionality (another LIS job search term!) has become so important on the Internet. While I do a lot of technical service reference work in my part time job, working in GIS has allowed me to work on the design side and I enjoy it. I think it’s important for all of us librarians to not only work on the reference and help side, but to also gain some familiarity on the UX or design side. If nothing else, it will help developers of library products, such as TLC or Millennium, gain developers with a vested interest in making quality products.

The best part about working in GIS with a MLIS is that most people that I’ve met have not only been willing to teach me the basics, but they’ve also been completely encouraging and understanding about how a MLIS can work in the field. Many times at library conferences, I feel that people can be narrow-minded about what the degree can do and where it can take a person. However, with a few exceptions, I’ve found that tech and GIS people can be very welcoming and understanding about having an MLIS and using it in a way that isn’t directly in a library capacity. I think this is what my fellow librarians should begin to understand and incorporate in their thinking; a library degree is useful in so many fields, including tech ones. After all, aren’t we all after the same goal? Librarians and IT people want to make a user experience that is easy to use and even fun sometimes. We’re here to help people and with GIS, I’ve found a unique way to do so.

A few examples of how GIS can work for users and also make super cool maps:




Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list INALJ.com (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of T160K.org, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ. INALJ has had over 21 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay.